Coram joins Guardian's Q&A on Social Care and the Riots
In response to the summer's riots, can more can be done to engage with families in difficulties, is there enough funding for social care and how would it be better directed? These
These are just some of the questions debated by Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent , Deputy Chief Executive of Coram, and others working in social care as part of a live online Q&A discussion run by the Guardian (on Friday 16 December) looking into the role of social care in some of the issues that have emerged from the riots.
The debate was part of the Guardian's Reading the Riots project with the London School of Economics.
Below are highlights from Coram's responses during the discussion. You can see the full online debate and the views of others working in social care, by visiting the Guardian's website.
Q. How do people see the government’s announcement of £400m funding to ‘identify and help’ so-called “troubled families” as a response to the riots, putting social care at the heart of the matter?
Coram: As a response to the riots, the announcement raises interesting questions. The involvement in the disturbances of children and families known to social services has not yet been fully explored, and there is no indication yet that this was a significant factor. In fact, none of the young people who use our supported housing service (care leavers and the homeless) took part in the events.
Nevertheless, the original Social Exclusion Task Force research showed that "troubled families" often face a number of disadvantages which are known to make it more difficult to help their children reach their potential.
Q. Does this government understand the issues facing young people?
Coram: I think the challenge for this government, and for the community as a whole, is to show and demonstrate that they understand the issues facing young people today - it's not just about the words.
One of the most important things is to recognise that young people are not a homogenous group - the NatCen research shows that there was a mix of personal, situational, and other factors that were at play, and affected individuals in different ways.
Q. Does the response feel stigmatising; is the government’s presentation of the issue helpful?
Coram: This divisive and stigmatising issue is so important – we need to recognise that this is how many young people feel; the Guardian research shows that over 80% thought the riots would happen again, and over a third of those who expressed an opinion said they would get involved again.
In developing effective responses, we should listen to young people. Coram tries to emphasise working with vulnerable young people to develop and improve our services.
On getting over the stigma, we try to do the simple things well, and through this form a relationship. This can start from practical assistance (e.g. school work), but is a good foundation to building trust, particularly where supportive relationships have broken down.
Q. Is it realistic to aim to help children reach their potential and to save money?
Coram: T T here’s no 'quick fix' to help "troubled families". There can be positives if there is a push to encourage families' confidence in professionals.
Intervening in a crisis might be a place to start, but good assessment to understand risk and need, which prioritises intervention, is what is needed.
To help vulnerable families, it's about sustaining support to bring about change - particularly with issues such as substance misuse, domestic violence, and mental health. And interventions should be child-centred - you need a commitment to children's developmental progress. It's not just about the parents; it can be easy in targeted interventions to forget the child's needs.
Q. Has the approach to punishment to those involved in the disturbances been appropriate?
Coram: Recommendations for restorative justice approaches are interesting, as the approach is about understanding actions. At Coram we do work hard to help young people to understand more about actions and their consequences in different settings. This reinforces others’ comments about the importance ofbringing communities / perspectives together.
Q. Can the government’s announcements be seen as positive in supporting young people?
Coram: Early interventionis so important, particularly when a person first becomes a parent. We work in Ealing to help isolated families to find the services that are available – we're working to help families understand their rights to services, to be able to find help when they need it. Even making sure a child has their innoculations is a good place to start.
People value services that they can choose to use, if it's their decision and not forced on them. Voluntary organisations have an important role to play, particularly where there is stigma attached to 'social work'.
Q. 66% of all young people appearing before court due to involvement in the disturbances had some form of special educational need – are the needs of some going unnoticed?
Coram: The issue of special educational needs is a worrying statistic. We need to make sure we attend to jobs, prospects and aspirations for this group. Literacy is a big factor in relation to future prospects; we should make sure that vulnerable children get help with this early on.
Q. Is a relationship-based approach enough?
Coram: Structural issues should be recognised- young people are often in the frontline during a downturn, as we're seeing, particularly the cycle of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment (e.g. needing an address to find work, etc).
Young people using Coram services have expressed frustrations at the future they face; Coram have tried to address this with proactive support. Practical skills workshops, seeking opportunities for volunteering, building confidence to go through the processes for employment, and encouraging persistence. Our approach focuses on the practical and emotional skills needed to gain entry to education and work, and rests on the relationship with our support workers.
Q. What is needed in terms of integration of services for young people?
Coram: Access to support to help with emotional and mental health needs is really important to young people (and their parents), and in our experience this access isn't available quickly enough – even in priority groups, such as children in care, or post-adoption. The wait is too long.
Linking with services isn't just about statutory services; creative services and therapies (e.g. music, drama, art, dance) are a great way to provide a vehicle for community cohesion, self-expression, and engagement with services. Our older people [who were] in our care [in the 1930 and 40s when Coram was known as The Foundling Hospital], some now in their 70s and 80s, speak passionately about how music and art helped them to reflect.
Young people should have more access to diverse and effective youth services. This is particularly pertinent given the reports to our youth workers and in the Guardian research in Haringey that there was some forewarning of tensions at community level.
Q. How should needs assessments be changed, picking up key points in a child’s life?
Coram: There are key development points, and the move to secondary school is one that we've grappled with in our services. It can be a massive change, especially for the more vulnerable - particularly critical to recognise, given how influential peer influences and group dynamics were in the disturbances. Peer influences become even stronger at adolescence.
Programmes that provide a consistent support worker for that transition stage, in the first three years, are important. They work to problem-solve with the young people, and link with other services. And parents also find it difficult to engage with schools when children reach this stage, so helping parents to build positive family links that help young people to resist negative peer pressures should also be part of this.
An added level of complexity is faced by those parents that not only deal with the generational change, but also sometimes cultural changes that can deepen the divide between them and adolescence.
Q. What works for the most vulnerable families in changing behaviour?
Coram: As others have said, intensive programmes that focus on the priority factor first, that also link with other agencies, are important. The Family Drug & Alcohol Court works intensively to reduce substance misuse, and then works on parenting.
Q. Is it less likely that outcomes are measured by social impact given the financial climate?
Coram: Social impact measurement is very topical, and is actually more in demand - in part, driven by the financial climate as commissioners seek more evidence of value for money. The difficulty is agreeing how measurement is done – how do we agree what impact is, and how it should be measured? In an area such as this, where there are so many agencies involved, social impact becomes increasingly complex to measure. Coram has been involved in trying to explore 'distance travelled' tools, alongside the clinical tools, to capture broader outcomes from families' perspectives.
Coram has also been working on PbR with one of our services, and I think one of the key lessons for us is the importance of dialogue between the provider and commissioner, to ensure the proxy measures are relevant and feasible to measure.
Q. Are parents to blame for their children rioting?
Coram: In Coram's experience, the parents who seek help from us have high aspirations for their children. We should move away from 'blaming' parents, particularly when so many other factors have been shown to be influential in the NatCen and Guardian research.
Young people are not a homogenous group - some older children and young people are isolated from their families, so 'parenting' per se is not the issue. Coram's approach is about addressing young people's needs by building relationships; parenting is an important factor, but not the only factor.
That said, where parents do want help, there are effective parenting programmes, and can help parents deal with the practical issues of managing children and their behaviour.
Q. What do we want to see happening now?
Coram: There are themes that have been repeated as the fundamentals in helping children become more resilient - a warm relationship with the caregiver who can practically problem-solve with and on behalf of the child, and child-centred services with a consistent lead, that work together rather than in parallel or in sequence, when help is needed.
This is well-known, but has yet to be achieved.
The most important thing is a consistent supportive person, especially with vulnerable young people. The ideal is early intervention, but this isn't available for all. With young people, personalised engagement where someone problem-solves with them at their own pace, advocates for them, and encourages confidence to act for themselves.
At Coram, our young service users have such potential, and it's such a pleasure to see many flourish.
Recognising their frustrations, and not dismissing behaviour or choices is so important, and can lead to fantastic results; as one young person said to us in the wake of the disturbances:
"I wanted to go out, but just felt it was not the right thing to do."
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